No sojourn to Buenos Aires is complete without an expedition to San Telmo. As the oldest of Buenos Aires’s barrios, the district teems with colonial-style buildings and restored brickworks from the city’s earliest days. Today, San Telmo is known for its bustling markets, historic landmarks, hip cafés, and tango culture. Indeed, this district has some of the best fun in town, so let’s get moving.
1: Meander through San Telmo Market. (Calle Bolívar 931)
A glimpse at the historic San Telmo Market (or Mercado San Telmo) building is worth a visit alone. Now a national historic monument, the market building is a massive structure of steel and glass constructed in the late 19th century in the Italian classical style. An iron beam ceiling, ornately welded metal arches, and a glass atrium ceiling cover throngs of market stalls and bubbly shoppers. Enjoy a stroll through an eclectic mix of fresh produce, sundries, meats, cheeses, antiques, crafts, toys, and more.
The covered market is open every day from 10am to sundown.
2: Pick up a souvenir at Feria de San Telmo. (Calle Defensa 120)
Not to be confused with the Mercado, the Feria de San Telmo (“San Telmo Fair” in English) – just around the corner on Defensa – is only open on Sundays and includes a different suite of merch altogether. Before dawn, vendors are busy setting up tables, boxes, and bags of some of Argentina’s best and most interesting antiques, art, souvenirs, and clothes. Bear in mind: There are a lot of goods on offer and up to 20,000 people (both tourists and locals) hit the Feria each week to unearth that single piece that will change their life forever.
Expect to see jewelry, books, music boxes, coins, plates, watches, picture frames, and lamps among many other items too varied to name here. We’re particularly fascinated, however, with the antique colored glass siphon bottles that are ubiquitous at the Feria. A custom brought to Argentinian shores by European Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century, home delivery of seltzer water by sifóneros (sort of like seltzer-milk men) has been a thing in Argentina ever since. The glass siphon bottles were eventually replaced by plastic ones, but make for great souvenirs. Pro tip: Before buying, make sure the glass is truly colored, rather than just painted on the inside. Also, don’t expect any of the bottles to work.
Finally, haggling isn’t part of the scene here, but you may be able to get a discount if you’re buying multiple items. Bring cash (U.S. dollars are accepted); many vendors do not take credit cards.
3: Stop for coffee at Bar Plaza Dorrego. (Plaza Dorrego)
If you’re angling for a bit of a late-morning pick me up, head over to the Bar Plaza Dorrego for a rich cup of coffee and strong dose of historic Argentinian culture. Vintage tango memorabilia, parquet flooring, and an antique bar add to the Old-World atmosphere.
4: Indulge in a little tango. (Plaza Dorrego)
San Telmo is tango central in Buenos Aires and at Plaza Dorrego, you can check out a performance or two by professional dancers who routinely rehearse on small stages around the plaza. Even better – you can get up and have a go yourself (maybe after that second glass of Malbec). If you’d rather just watch, you can do dinner and a show at Gala Tango or El Viejo Almacén. Tickets range from $70-120 and are available online.
5: Visit Convento de Santo Domingo. (Calle Defensa 422)
First established during colonial times, the beautiful Basilica of our Lady of the Rosary and Convent of Santo Domingo (aka Convento de Santo Domingo) is one of the city’s most beloved symbols of independence. The current building was built in 1805 and came under siege a year later when British invaders attempted (unsuccessfully) to take the city. The tomb of Argentinian independence hero Manuel Belgrano is also here.
Designed in the neoclassical style, the basilica has three naves. The interior is ornately decorated with marble and features intricately painted detailing. As is custom, women should wear a head covering when inside the church.
6: Peruse San Telmo’s antique shops.
Thanks to San Telmo’s lengthy history, there are more antiques, Old-World treasures, and tchotchkes here than in any other part of the city. If you’re the type who enjoys antiquing, there are a handful of shops in addition to the Feria De San Telmo worth visiting.
The exquisite Hugo Breitman Antiques Gallery (Calle Defensa 1016) is for serious collectors and is known for its late 19th and early-20th century European art, including a vast collection of Art Deco bronze statuary, glass, chandeliers, wall fixtures, and vases, among others finds. While many of these items are pricey, the gallery has a solid reputation for standing behind each item’s authenticity and quality.
7: Do lunch at a San Telmo parrilla.
Put your feet up for a bit at a local parrilla, a traditional Argentinian barbeque restaurant that specializes in various cuts of steak, sausage, and sometimes chicken (and vegetables for the less carnivorous). Be sure and pair it with a rich Argentinian Malbec – just a glass for now. Many parrillas can be found on Calle Defensa, but beware of those that cater to tourists with cheaper cuts and faster turnarounds. We suggest La Brigada or El Desnivel for a meal full of authentic charm and scrumptious local flavors.
8: Sample the local vino.
Finally, shop Vinotango (Calle Estados Unidos 488) for a healthy selection of regional and local boutique wines, as well as gourmet snacks to go with. The service here is friendly, approachable, and happy to make recommendations if you feel you’re a little out of your vino depth.
Finally, for more on what to do in this vibrant city, be sure and have a look at our article on Buenos Aires.